Speaking Your Truth in Relationships
A good relationship asks us to be more mindful of ourselves and how we show up with our partners.
We are not taught how to be in a relationship. Relationships seem to fall in the same category as getting a mortgage, purchasing a car, or filing your taxes. There are no courses in college and there are no curriculums in high school that offer a how-to in any of these subjects, but somehow we’re supposed to know how to do them. However, statistics show that in fact, we don’t really know how to be in a relationship.
The question I get asked all the time is, “Should my relationship be this difficult?” I think people are looking for me to say, “No, of course not. Relationships should be easy if they are meant to be.” But my answer to their question is a firm YES! Yes, your relationship should be this difficult but not for the reasons you’re currently experiencing. You see, relationships shouldn’t be difficult because of communication issues, problems in the bedroom, differences about money or how to raise the kids – these are some of the reasons that couples experience problems.
I believe relationships should be difficult because they ask more of us. A good relationship asks us to be more mindful of ourselves and how we show up with our partners. Good relationships ask us to look at the internal stories or narratives that we create about our partners and ask, is that fair? Is it compassionate? Is it formed out of love? Or is it formed out of fear and resentment? A good relationship is challenging because it asks us to take responsibility in places where we might prefer to place blame.
We don’t see relationships as growth opportunities, and that’s where we are getting it wrong. This is why they can feel so hard. I can tell you personally that the most difficult times in my own relationship have also been the most rewarding. They were the moments when my wife asked more of me, to do better, to show up differently, to show up better. It wasn’t always easy and I didn’t always like it, but it made me a better man and a better husband. Ultimately it has made me a better parent as well. I like to think that I’ve done the same for her.
People can expect to learn whether or not they are truly showing up for their partners. If a relationship is to thrive, learning how to “show up” in the most mindful, most mature, and most vulnerable parts of ourselves has to be the imperative. It is from this position, and this position only, that couples can begin to change their habits with one another, thus changing the very culture of their relationship. It has been my experience that our romantic partners are uniquely designed to bump into our wounds. The vulnerability of love typically demands that we cover up and protect our hearts from further injury.
The latest research on the plasticity of the brain is pretty exciting. It basically states that in just six to eight short weeks of mindful practice, we begin to change our neural pathways, which means changing the way we think and the way we react. Mindfulness affords us the opportunity to stop, take a moment, and truly consider our old ways of thinking and behaving. From this place, we can make new and better choices that begin the process of changing those well-worn grooves in the brain. These studies on mindfulness and our ability to change our brains are blowing the roof off years of scientific dogma. We can change how we react and think, and we can do so in our romantic relationships. This course is the first I know of that puts these two pieces together in a way that is both digestible and actionable in real life for real couples.
People often seek couples therapy because of poor communication. What most people don’t understand, is that people rarely have communication problems. What they actually have is a part of self-problem. You see, we all have different parts of self that show up depending on the people, places, and things we come in contact with. For example, we are different at work than we are with family or at a cocktail party. The latest research on compartmentalization of the mind says that these aren’t just moods but separate and distinct sub-personalities or parts of self.
I take advantage of this research and ask, “What part of you comes to the table in your relationship when things get difficult?” If you are having trouble relating or communicating, you are probably in a part of self that is charged with protecting or keeping you safe, and this side of yourself is not capable of intimacy. We can think of our parts as similar to apps on a cell phone, each with its own skills and abilities. With this idea in mind, you wouldn’t want to be on Instagram if your goal was to send an email. Likewise, you don’t want to be in a shutdown or protective part of self if intimacy and connection is your goal.
This course uses mindfulness-based practices to uncover the parts of self that come to play in your relationship. The age-old practice of “naming” gets practitioners in touch with what they are thinking and feeling on a moment-to-moment basis. I add another dimension to this practice by asking, “What parts of you show up and when?” Participants begin to get to know themselves in a new and profound way. They also learn to use the parts of themselves more skillfully and mindfully. This practice has the effect of breathing more compassion and kindness into couples discourse. Couples report being able to finally communicate about previously “off-limits” subjects.
For the most part, the couples-therapy industry has been putting the cart before the horse when dealing with couples communication. People simply cannot communicate effectively from wounded or protective sides of self. I believe that interactions between couples begin with knowing what part of you is here and if that part is open to connection. If the wrong part is present, any attempt at intimacy is dead in the water.
If we want to be good at anything, we need to practice it, and this includes our love relationships. I tell couples in my practice that it’s not about the time we spend in session as much as it is about what you do outside of session. Meaning, the more you practice the tools we discuss, the better off you and your partner will be. At the end of the day, we are trying to change habits, in some cases long-standing, long-held habits. I want to get the couples who are taking this course active, really investing in themselves and investing in their relationships by practicing these tools every day, all of the time. If they can do this, then they have a real opportunity to create something truly special.